Having a baby is the most likely time a woman will experience a mental health condition. The most common disorders are depression and anxiety. Depression affects up to 1 in 10 women during pregnancy and this increases to 1 in 7 in the first year following the birth of their baby. Rates of anxiety are thought to be much higher (possibly double the rates).
These conditions are common, and can be serious, if not identified or treated early. We know also that these conditions can have a significant impact – on all members of the family.
The impact on mothers….
Depression and anxiety make it extremely difficult for new and expectant mothers to get through the day, let alone manage during pregnancy or respond to the needs of their infant or attend to other children. Many depressed mothers describe feeling no joy, like they are down a black hole, numb, detached, alone and unable to cope or interact with their baby or their life.
Women experiencing anxiety describe inner turmoil, overwhelming fear, constant worry that something was wrong with their baby and a disconnection between mind and body.
Not only are these disorders highly debilitating for the mother, but mental health conditions can have more widespread detrimental effects on the developing fetus/baby and partner.
The impact on infants…
We know that infant development is optimised when the infant is in a healthy and nurturing environment during pregnancy and postnatally. There is, however, emerging evidence suggesting that persistent maternal distress, depression and/or anxiety may have negative effects on the developing fetus and/or infant in its first year of life.
These potential effects vary greatly from one infant to another – with some children remaining unaffected. Importantly, the research highlights the crucial need to minimise any potential impact, through early identification, support and effective treatment.
The impact on fathers and partners…
Those fathers living with, and supporting, their wife/partner with a mental health disorder are at increased risk of developing depression or anxiety themselves. Many fathers describe experiencing grief and loss due to the lost emotional connection with wives/partners and a failure to have a joyful experience as a new father.
The impact on the community….
The cost of these conditions to the broader community is also significant and cannot be underestimated. For example, if depression and anxiety alone was not treated for births in 2012, this would have cost the community well in excess of $500M for one year.
So what are we doing about it?
In response to the serious and debilitating impacts of these conditions, the time has come for a dedicated focus on mental health conditions.
We need to give mental health conditions that occur at this time of life the profile and attention they deserve. Furthermore, the high expectations that often come with becoming a parent, pressures from the community (perceived or real) and high stigma stops many women from speaking out. We need to grow awareness and develop a culture of understanding and support for new parents, and ensure they have the information, support and access to timely, effective treatment.
Mum Central and Australian Baby Bargains are proud to partner and support the work of a new charitable organization that has been established to do just this. Over the coming weeks we will keep you informed of the latest developments of COPE: Centre of Perinatal Excellence.
In the meantime…
Get in touch by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter and we will keep you posted on the research outcomes, needs of women, and what COPE is doing with others to improve the emotional journey of parenthood.
Have you experienced depression an/or anxiety during pregnancy or following the birth of a baby?
We would love to hear from you!
Join with the other 1000 women who have completed our anonymous and confidential, online survey. Your invaluable insights help us to identify the extent of these issues and inform how we can better understand and meet the needs of women. Your valuable input will help us to make other’s journey easier. Just click through here to complete our survey.